Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Zehnder Harry Confair (1906-1982)

Portrait from the Pennsylvania State Manual, 1959-60.

  A prominent name in the business and political history of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, Zehnder Harry Confair was the founder of the Confair Bottling Co. and for fourteen years represented the 23rd and 24th senatorial district in the Pennsylvania State Senate. Long an advocate for improved roadways in his state, Confair was later dubbed the "Father of the Keystone Shortway" due to his advocacy for the construction and completion of Interstate 80 (the Keystone Shortway), a three hundred-plus mile highway that runs across Pennsylvania's northern portion. 
   The son of Charles H. and Rena (Baum) Confair, Zehnder Harry Confair was born on January 11, 1906, in Berwick, Pennsylvania. Bestowed the unusual first name Zehnder, Confair's middle name is recorded as Harry as per his Pennsylvania birth certificate. A graduate of the Berwick High School, Confair went on to enroll at the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania. Following graduation in 1929, he married on November 27th of that year to Arline S. Hoyt (birthdate unknown), who predeceased him. The couple would have one son, Richard "Dick" Confair (1931-2016), who later joined in the family's bottling company.
   Four years following his marriage, Zehnder Confair and his wife founded the Confair Bottling Co. in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Confair would remain connected to this soft drink bottling concern until the 1970s and saw it grow to such an extent that a second warehouse location was established in the town of Wellsboro. Further expansion came with the opening of another branch in Elmira, New York, which in the early 1960s was headed by Confair's son Richard. Confair's longstanding connection to soft drink bottling saw him elected as second vice president of the Keystone Bottler's Association in 1951, and in the following year advanced to the presidency of that organization.
  With his name firmly established in Lycoming County business circles, Confair branched out into county civic affairs through the 1950s, being a member of the board of directors for the Williamsport Chamber of Commerce and the city's First Federal Savings and Loan Association. Confair later chaired the executive committee of the Industrial Bureau of Lycoming County and held memberships in several civic and fraternal groups in his region, including the Moose and Elks Lodges, Masons, the Williamsport Rotary Club, and was a lifetime member of the Consolidated Sportsmen of Lycoming County.
   Zehnder Confair entered Keystone State politics in 1954 when he announced his candidacy for the Pennsylvania state senate in that year's Republican primary race. Hoping to unseat five-term incumbent John G. Snowden (1880-1964), the "upstart" Confair was remarked by the Philadelphia Inquirer as a "lobbyist for the State's soft-drink interests" whose primary aim was to "ward off any move to tax soft drinks". Despite a strong showing early in the campaign season, Confair would lose out to Snowden that May, and that November the latter won election to a sixth and final term in the senate.
   Not one to let a loss get the best of him, Confair was again a candidate for the senate in 1958, and after winning the Republican primary that year faced off against Democratic incumbent Miles Derk, who had represented the 24th district since 1956. On election day that November it was Confair who emerged victorious, besting Derk by a vote of 34, 836 to 31, 317. Taking his seat at the start of the 1959-63 session, Confair's first term saw him named to the committees on Elections; Highways; Law and Order; and Public Health and Welfare.

From the Clearfield Progress, April 5, 1961.

   A candidate for a second term in 1962, Confair defeated Frank Plankenhorn that November, polling 44, 264 votes to his opponent's 29, 964. This term saw Confair chair the committee on Fish and Game, and also served on the committees on Appropriations; Banking; Elections and Reapportionment; Finance; Forests and Waters; and Constitutional Changes and Federal Relations. 
   Prior to and during his first senate terms, Confair had gained press for his advocation for the construction of a 311 mile, four-lane highway system that would extend across Pennsylvania's northern portion, and would form part of an even larger highway system that would extend from New Jersey to California. Confair's lengthy connection to the project saw him as chairman of the Keystone Shortway Association beginning in the 1950s, which bolstered support for the highway's construction. The Pennsylvania portion of I-80, nicknamed the Keystone Shortway, was boosted by Confair as a way to serve northcentral Pennsylvania cities like DuBois, Hazleton, Lock Haven, Sharon, Stroudsburg, as a quicker, alternative route to the New York State Thruway and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. With the completion of the Pennsylvania portion of I-80 in 1970, travelers could drive across the entire state from Monroe County to Mercer County, with no tolls or interruptions along the route. In 1984, two years after his death, Confair was memorialized when the Pennsylvania section of I-80 was designated as the Z.H. Confair Memorial Highway in his honor.

From the 1963-64 State Manual of Pennsylvania.

  Zehnder Confair was elected to further terms in the state senate through the 1960s, and in his final terms (1969-72) represented the 23rd senatorial district, due to redistricting. In January 1972 Confair announced that he wouldn't be a candidate for renomination that year and retired at the end of that year's session. That same year Confair suffered a stroke and retired from business pursuits. Following the death of his wife Arline he remarried to Cleo McLeod Wagner, who would survive him upon his death. Zehnder H. Confair died at a Williamsport hospital on January 26, 1982, aged 75. In addition to his wife, he was survived by his son, Richard, and was interred at the Twin Hills Memorial Park in Muncy, Pennsylvania.

From the Wellsboro Gazette, January 27, 1982.

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